Wilbur Dartnell

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William Thomas Dartnell
Dartnell, W.T.jpg
Born 6 April 1885 (1885-04-06)
Collingwood, Melbourne
Died 3 September 1915 (1915-09-04) (aged 30)
Maktau, British East Africa
Allegiance Australia Australia
 United Kingdom
Service/branch Australian Army
British Army
Years of service 1914 – 1915
Rank Lieutenant
Unit Victorian Mounted Rifles
25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers
Battles/wars Second Boer War
World War I
Awards Victoria Cross

William Thomas Dartnell VC (6 April 1885 – 3 September 1915) (enlisted as Wilbur Taylor Dartnell) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Dartnell was born in Melbourne, Australia. After marrying Elizabeth Smyth, he moved to South Africa, where he was living at the outbreak of the First World War. He enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers and was shipped to British East Africa. On 3 September 1915, whilst his company were being evacuated, he stayed behind in an attempt to save the lives of the wounded.

Early life[edit]

William Dartnell was born on 6 April 1885 at Collingwood, Melbourne, to Henry Dartnell, an English-born fruiterer, and his Australian wife Rose Ann, née Hanley. He was brought up in Melbourne and after leaving school, he became an actor. At the age of 16 he served in the Second Boer War. He married Elizabeth Edith Smyth on 15 April 1907, at Queen Street, Melbourne. Soon after, they settled at Fitzroy.[1]

First World War[edit]

At the age of 27, Dartnell settled in South Africa. When the First World War started, he volunteered for service and sailed for England. On 12 February 1915, using the name Wilbur Taylor Dartnell, he joined the 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. He was promoted to temporary Lieutenant on 25 July 1915.[2] The regimental history notes of this battalion states that it "included men of various ages and with strange experience from all quarters of the globe".[3] Raised especially for use against German troops in British East Africa, it was the only British unit sent on active service during the war without preliminary training. The Fusiliers reached Mombasa on 4 May and went at once to their military post on the Uganda railway; their main task was to protect the railway from enemy raiding parties. In June, Dartnell retrieved the Imperial Ensign from the local headquarters at Bukoba, the German base for attacks on the Uganda frontier. The regiment were subsequently awarded battle honours for "Bukoba".[2]

Victoria Cross[edit]

Shortly after the victory at Bukoba, the battalion moved to Voi in preparation for an allied advance towards German East Africa. Two companies were dispatched by rail to Maktau, a small village in the lee of the Taita Hills. Thirty-five miles from Voi, it was the railhead of the military railway then under construction towards Taveta. On 3 September 1915, his mounted infantry patrol was ambushed.

On 3 September 1915, near Maktau, Kenya, during a mounted infantry engagement, the enemy were so close that it was impossible to get the more severely wounded away. Lieutenant Dartnell, who was himself being carried away wounded in the leg, seeing the situation, and knowing that the enemy's black troops murdered the wounded, insisted on being left behind, in the hope of being able to save the lives of other wounded men. He gave his own life in a gallant attempt to save others."[4]


Dartnell and eight other European troops were originally buried at Maktau. After the war they were reburied in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Voi, 100 miles inland from the port of Mombasa on the East African coast. His headstone with the VC emblem lies to the right of the entrance to the Cemetery.[5] His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Australian War Memorial.[6]


  1. ^ Merrilyn Lincoln, (1981). 'Dartnell, William Thomas (1885 - 1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, Melbourne University Press, p. 213. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  2. ^ a b "Lt DARTNELL, Wilbur Taylor". Royal Fusiliers. Archived from the original on 10 January 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  3. ^ Kelleher, J.P (2001) "Elegant Extracts" - The Royal Fusiliers Recipients of the VC
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29414. p. 12797. 21 December 1915. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  5. ^ "CWGC: Casualty Details". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  6. ^ "Hall of Valour". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 

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